The effects of very large volcanic eruptions are well documented in many studies, mostly based on observations made on three historic eruptions, Laki 1783; Tambora 1815 and Krakatau 1883. Such eruptions have effects that are catastrophic locally and measurable globally, but it is not clear that even the largest volcanic eruptions have had global catastrophic effects, nor caused mass extinctions. Two different types of volcanic eruption were considered as likely to have the most serious widespread effects: large silicic explosive eruptions producing hundreds or thousands of cubic kilometers of pyroclastic materials, and effusive basaltic eruptions producing of approximately 100 cubic kilometers of lava. In both cases, the global effects are climatic, and attributable to production of stratospheric aerosols. Other possibilities need to be explored. Recent research on global change has emphasized the extreme sensitivity of the links between oceanic circulation, atmospheric circulation and climate. In particular, it was argued that the pattern of ocean current circulation (which strongly influences climate) is unstable; it may rapidly flip from one pattern to a different one, with global climatic consequences. If volcanism has been a factor in global environmental change and a cause of mass extinctions, it seems most likely that it has done so by providing a trigger to other processes, for example by driving oceanic circulation from one mode to another.